I've scribbled the alphabet for meaning since I can remember.
I walked around Tokyo with an empty juice for forty-five minutes before I found a trash can.
Because there are no trashcans in Japan.
True the official reason is not a pleasant one: the Aum gas attacks of 1995 where many people were killed. But what Japan didn’t do after the tragedy was install a lot of fear producing police to walk the streets and terrify people: they just took out the trashcans. If you have trash, deal with it. People’s safety is more important. Just think about the last time you felt more important than pop consumerism.
If you make trash, you carry it. You think twice, and what you don’t do is throw it on the streets. Because there is no trash on the streets of Japan either.
While visiting Japan this October, I spent a good deal of time in restaurants eating very carefully with chopsticks because napkins were rare too. I don’t think these things are coincidences or even exclusive.
Japan is a display of excellence: in their architecture, in their cuisine and in their hospitality. When in Rome turns into when in Japan, take care to clean up after yourself. Take pride in yourself because the whole country takes pride in itself and you notice.
And you may even notice that you didn’t ever notice that before.
That’s a problem.
When you come home from American work in your American house do you take off your shoes and line them up at the door, or do you walk the streets through the sanctity of your home and toss them along side the couch? Do you see an overflowing trashcan outside the movie theater and balance your drink on top and walk away because, of course, it’s not your job?
What would happen if whatever you consumed you couldn’t just toss aside? What would happen if you couldn’t shovel your food down your throat and wipe away your mistakes on a napkin no one sees? You would have to be more mindful: of your actions, of your intentions, your placement, of everything. You would have to just do it right the first time.
What a concept: responsibility for excellence.
One of my souvenirs from Japan is sharing this idea of excellence. Our American culture can learn so boldly from this. Turn down the dial of what you want or what you need and see how your actions affect others. Realize no matter how you are living you are living in community. It takes one dish left in the sink for the rest of the household to leave theirs there too. Ever notice that? But if the sink is clean and empty, chances are it will stay that way. When you create an expectation of excellence, excellence is maintained around you. I have never felt this more clearly than walking among the beauty of the Japanese. I am forever grateful to the patient and generous souls who hosted us and demonstrated - in their everyday living - the beauty of simple excellence.
We can do this.
Let’s start cleaning up our space, maintaining our balance and not trashing the land we walk, sleep, and live upon. Then we can talk about sushi and Doraemon, about gorgeous mountain sides and paper wrapped packages, about warm hearted hugs and temples that will humble you to your knees.
Romaji: Gou ni itte wa, gou ni shitagae
Literally: Entering the village, obey the village
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